A syndrome known as hikikomori, in which the outside world is shunned, wreaked havoc on young people in Japan, a country known for its communal values. And an older generation—the very bastion of those old-fashioned values—may have been to blame.
Hikikomori (the term refers to the behavior itself and to those who suffer from it) was first recognized in the early 1990s. One million Japanese, or almost 1 percent of the population, are estimated to suffer from hikikomori, defined as a withdrawal from friends and family for months or even years. Some 40 percent of hikikomori are under the age of 21.
Western psychologists compared hikikomori with social anxiety and agoraphobia, a fear of open places. The affliction has also been likened to Asperger's syndrome, a mild variant of autism. But these theories carry little weight in Japan, where the disorder is considered culturally unique and is linked to violence.
Yuichi Hattori, a psychologist who treated 18 patients with the disorder, believes that hikikomori is caused by emotionally neglectful parenting. Hattori argues that none of his patients had been sexually or physically abused, yet they all show signs of posttraumatic stress disorder.